How Should You Manage Your Small Business’ Online Reputation?

by Emily Retherford

5 min read

Your small business’ online reputation is your digital calling card. In many cases, a quick Google search is often the only chance you get to sway a potential customer away from a competitor. In addition, a great reputation helps you increase traffic, boost business, and safeguard your sales after a public error. The best time to begin an online reputation management plan is now. With a proactive approach, it’s possible to build a positive foundation of support that can help you withstand the occasional negative review.

Establish a Presence

The first few pages of search engine results can determine how a customer sees your business. The bigger your online presence, the easier it is to control search results and manage the customer’s first impression. Start by claiming your business listing on Google. Do the same thing on popular review websites such as Yelp, Tripadvisor, and your province’s Better Business Bureau website. If you don’t have social media accounts, now is the time to get on board, as these profiles often show up in search results. Fill out each profile completely to ensure the best search rankings. Once you have updated your social profiles, turn to your company website and blog, and make sure each page is fully optimized for search engines. If you’re not sure what keywords to use, start with the phrases customers might use to find your business. “Dance Supply Superstore Toronto” is more specific than “dance clothes.” By optimizing for your business name, location, and products, you can boost your chances of showing up on the first page of search results. Remember that search engines change their algorithms occasionally, so you can maintain your ranking by tweaking SEO and updating pages frequently. Alternatively, look to services such as Reputation Defender to publish positive reports that push negative search results further down the list.

Encourage Reviews

In many cases, customers don’t leave online reviews until they have a very good or very bad experience. As a result, review websites might not present a complete picture of your business. To increase the number of reviews, reach out to your customers. The easiest way to get reviews is simply to ask. Request that customers post a review on Tripadvisor as they check out, or send a post-purchase email with a link to your Yelp page. If your customers aren’t responding, you can try an incentive. Offer a small discount for everyone who leaves a review, or enter all monthly reviewers into a special drawing. Make it clear that the reward is simply for the act of writing a review and that it is available regardless of content.

Respond to Positive Reviews

One of the most useful things you can do to manage your reputation is to respond to every online review, even when they’re positive. Websites such as Reputation.com can help you track down reviews, even those that are posted on smaller websites. Once you find a review, offer thanks for the feedback, add a personal note if you remember the customer, and sign it with your name and position title. If the review includes constructive criticism, respond thoughtfully and communicate intent. A response such as, “That’s a great idea! Thanks to your feedback, we’ve installed a tablet checkout system so our customers can choose to have receipts sent by email.” shows that you take customer comments seriously.

Respond to Negative Reviews

A negative review can be upsetting when you pour yourself into your business, but it’s also a valuable opportunity to build trust. When a bad review comes in, do yourself a favor and take time to cool off – the only thing worse than a bad review is a bad review with a hot-headed comment from an angry business owner. When you’re calm, respond with the same personal and helpful tone you use for positive reviews. Apologize sincerely for the bad experience, and state how you plan to make amends. If a hotel guest is angry about a dirty room, for example, you might explain that you are talking to housekeeping staff, and offer a free night or free reward points. While it’s impossible to control the content of reviews, you can use comments to manage the conversation. Friendly responses create a personal connection to your business and show other users that you’re dedicated to improvements and top-notch service.

Monitor the Conversation

Formal reviews are only one of the ways your customers can discuss your brand online. Other ratings come in more casual forms, including blog mentions, tweets, and Facebook posts. Part of online reputation management includes monitoring these conversations and reacting accordingly. Start with social listening tools that search for keywords related to your company and alert you to any mentions. You can also set up a Google Alert for the same keywords to locate news articles or posts. If you or your employees write blog posts, keep an eye on the comments sections. When you spot a brand mention, don’t be afraid to engage in a discussion.

Go Transparent

When your company makes a mistake, it can be tempting to gloss over the issue. Honesty, even when it hurts, is almost always a better option. Internet users are quick to expose deception, and transparency can help prevent small issues from snowballing. When you’re faced with a negative news story, an honest public relations response can help your business survive. Take Maple Leaf Foods for example. After a 2008 listeriosis outbreak, the company apologized and accepted responsibility even though it was the legally risky option. Officials also communicated the procedural changes that were implemented to avoid similar problems in the future. As a result, Maple Leaf Foods started turning a profit less than a year later. The right online reputation management strategy can help your company weather any storm. With an investment of time, you can build a powerful, positive internet presence for your small business.

References & Resources

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